When Dennis Kruse, former law professor at Illinois State University, got into cross country skiing, he had no idea it would become a dominant force in his life. It all started in 1977 when a friend described skiing the ’77 Birkie, calling it an epic adventure. Intrigued, Dennis donned a pair of home-made woolen knickers, strapped on a pair of wood skis, slipped his hands into a pair of bamboo poles, and lined up with 2,717 other skiers for the 1978 running of the 55K American Birkebeiner.
“Coming from skiing the golf course, I wasn’t sure I would survive the first K over Mt. Telemark,” he recalls. “I still remember the sense of joy and satisfaction from hearing the music of the finish at the Lumberjack bowl.”
It was then and there that Birkie Fever captured his heart and soul, and it just won’t let go. Dennis has skied 26 Birkies, two Kotelopets, and all of the Worldloppet races, including 13 Engadines and 5 Norwegian Birkebeiners. He’s missed just a few American Birkebeiners since he joined the ranks of skiers in ’78–and for good reason. In 1985 Dennis skied the Finlandia in Lahti, in 2002 he was working as a technique controller at the 2002 Olympics, and in recent years he has served as a Race Announcer at both the Birkie Start and Finish areas.
“The Birkie and its consequences have probably been the single biggest influence in my life, including where I live, who my friends are, where I travel, and the quality of my life. By 1979 I had purchased a cabin in the Cable area and begun to commute from my job as a Law Professor in Illinois. Three years later I was working as a guide for Worldwide Nordic and skiing the races of the Worldloppet. For several years I was a co-owner of Seeley Hills Ski and Bike. I have been Director of the Seeley Hills Classic for 16 years. I have served as an officer of CXC and continue on the advisory board and am also on the Cross Country committee of USSA. I have also worked as a Director on the 24 Hours of Telemark, the Junior Birkie, and the the Telemark Super Tour.”
Yep, he’s got Birkie Fever. And that makes him a valuable member of the Board of Directors. Dennis has been a tireless advocate, encouraging the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation to use its status and resources to help promote the sport he loves. He says being on the board has been well worth his time and effort.
“I think we have made great progress with Skier Development grants, funding of a summer camp, lighted ski trails, and the new classic course,” he says.
In addition to skiing, Dennis enjoys living in the northwoods, cycling, kayaking, working on his house, and traveling to Europe a couple of times a year.